El Vino Co. Ltd
1-2 Hare Place
0207 353 5384
Download our Current Off-Sale Wine List
© 2006 El Vino Co. Ltd
There are not a lot of businesses as old as ours, and fewer still in the wine trade! El Vino, then known as Bower and Co, was founded in 1879, not 25 years after the industry was revolutionised by the Bordeaux Classification of 1855, and in the intervening years has become an integral part of the City of London and a strong influence on the development of the UK wine market. Our 128th year sees us still going strong with five ever-popular wine-bars in the City and a host of loyal customers, now enjoying a broader range of wines than ever!
It was in 1879, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, and horses ruled the road, when Alfred Louis Bower set himself up as a wine merchant on Mark Lane, on the eastern side of the City of London. While the ruling powers of Europe squabbled over ownership of acres of barren desert in Africa, Alfred Bower paid attention only to what was taking place closer to home, specifically the fertile soils of France and Spain. His business was an instant success, and business houses and private clients alike clamoured for the Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sherry that he imported. A Tasting room was set up at the Mark Lane premises, which swiftly developed into a wine-bar, becoming a hotspot for wine lovers across the City.
The success of this venue led to the opening of a further four wine-bars in the City and West End, including two that remain within the El Vino portfolio today, Fleet Street and Martin Lane. The Fleet Street bar, our flagship branch, was in fact converted from a hall of mirrors, and we maintain to this day that spending too long in there may cause you to start seeing double…!
Back in those days, Alfred Bower, as one of the few Free Vintners, had the distinct advantage of being able to sell wine without a licence. Not much hope of that today! In 1915, he harnessed his ambition of becoming the Lord Mayor of London by standing to become an Alderman, but was discreetly informed that for his ambition to be fulfilled, he would have to cease trading in the City under his own name. As a result, the company name was changed in 1923 to El Vino, a name that was already registered as a trademark for the firm’s sherries. Alfred Bower’s hard work paid off and he became Lord Mayor between 1924 and 1925. Bower and Co, now trading as El Vino, continued to flourish.
Alfred Bower was succeeded at El Vino by his charismatic nephew Francis, who became a very well-known figure, both to the City wine trade and to the patrons of the Fleet Street wine-bar. His trademark was a flowered waistcoat, remembered fondly to this day by some of El Vino’s longest standing customers. It was Frank Bower who developed the philosophy upon which the El Vino business has grown – most importantly he developed the ‘house rule’ of never selling a wine he did not consider ready to drink. This rule remains to this day, and our three directors do not seem to find it too much of a hardship to taste through our vast wine stocks and select those that are drinking well!
Sadly our Gutter Lane and Piccadilly (Swallow Street) wine-bars were bombed during the Blitz, and with no bomb insurance, the rubble was subsequently sold. The Martin Lane premises survived a blast next door but had to have its side wall replaced after the war.
In the early fifties the two nephews of Frank Bower, brothers Christopher and David Mitchell, joined the business as the third generation. They got a good ‘schooling’ in the trade from their Uncle and became joint Managing Directors in 1960. Christopher took responsibility for buying German wine as well as Port and Madeira, while David specialised in French wines and sherry. They guided the company through the swinging sixties and seventies until 1979, when David took up a post as a Government Minister and Christopher became sole Managing Director. Christopher was to be found most days meeting the customers in one of the wine-bars, and he opened the branch at 30 New Bridge Street in 1981.
Entering our third century of trading has proved an interesting challenge for El Vino. Still chaired by Christopher Mitchell OBE, it is now his two sons Anthony and Michael who are at the fore-front of the business and expanding the portfolio. While Michael ensures that our listings of classic European wines are as strong as ever, Anthony maintains a particular interest in the New World and has forged strong partnerships with wineries in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa. As ever, El Vino does not concern itself with the big ‘brands’, and you will not find our wines lining the supermarket shelves. We believe that the best value and quality are to be found in boutique wineries, and pride ourselves on importing wines that are both exciting to the UK wine industry and great value for money. In this way, while El Vino is still firmly anchored in the traditions established by the Bower family, there is also a great emphasis on moving forward and remaining at the head of the industry.
As already mentioned our first premises were in Mark Lane, an area well known for wine and spirit merchants. For many years we have wanted to return to base and so were delighted when in October 2006 we were given the opportunity to purchase Ruskins Restaurant and Wine Bar. Ruskins is at 60 Mark Lane, being built circa 1865 by the then extremely well known rum importers John and James Innes. The building is unique as it has one of the first fully fire approved brick vaulted ceilings that was built into the first steel framed building to be erected in the City.
This currently brings El Vino to owning five wine-bars in the City, with Ruskins (Mark Lane), the New Bridge Street (situated just outside Blackfriars Station) and Alban Gate (the Barbican) branches complementing the established Fleet Street and Martin Lane bars. Some will remember the strict rules on dress-code and women in the bars, which we are pleased to report have been relaxed – we welcome anybody to come in and join us for a glass or two of wine! And please don’t worry, while we may be embracing a more easygoing attitude in our bars, our attention to great customer service and a good warm welcome remain firmly intact. We are open on weekdays from early until late, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a range of wines and spirits from all round the world.
As well as the wine-bars for which we are principally renowned, El Vino also offers a great range of other services. Our re-launched website is proving a great hit, and scores of people are choosing us over the internet to place their orders and take advantage of our delivery service. Unlike many other wine companies, we deliver 24 bottles of more free of charge (mainland UK only) and are able to supply a superb array of gift cases. We offer a comprehensive ‘wine for weddings’ service, both in terms of providing wines for the event itself, and in compiling wedding lists for gift purposes. In addition to this we also supply wines for a variety of parties and events (both private and corporate) throughout the UK, and arrange regular tastings.
El Vino retains its position at the heart of the London wine-trade, and as such we remain a popular supplier to top London restaurants, clubs and hotels. If you are interested in finding out more about our On-Trade or Wholesale Services please click on this link.
May we wish you…
Happy Browsing and Merry Drinking!
The Directors and Staff of El Vino Co. Ltd.